A New Chal­lenge

Jack­son’s ath­leti­cism un­der cen­ter mak­ing the Fal­cons pre­pare for the Ravens with no ba­sis for com­par­i­son

Sunday Star - - SPORTS -

AT­LANTA (AP) — The At­lanta Fal­cons must pre­pare for two quar­ter­backs as they await Sun­day’s visit from the Bal­ti­more Ravens.

Of the two, rookie La­mar Jack­son is the hot topic of the week in the Fal­cons’ locker room.

The Fal­cons, who face Carolina and Cam New­ton in the NFC South twice each season, have pre­pared for other mo­bile quar­ter­backs. De­fen­sive tackle Grady Jar­rett says Jack­son be­longs in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory.

“I don’t feel there’s a com­par­i­son to what we’ve seen in terms of the level of ath­lete that he is,” Jar­rett said. “He’s a guy who can play any­where, at any position, on the of­fen­sive side of the ball. I don’t think there’s a com­par­i­son to any­body in the league to what he can do ath­let­i­cally at the position of quar­ter­back.”

While the Ravens await the re­turn of long­time starter Joe Flacco from a right hip in­jury, Jack­son has boosted the team’s play­off hopes. The for­mer Louisville stand­out and 2016 Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner has led Bal­ti­more (6-5) to back-to-back wins over Cincin­nati and Oak­land. Jack­son sud­denly is the team’s sec­ond-lead­ing rusher af­ter lead­ing the Ravens to more than 400 to­tal yards in each of the two straight wins.

Even coach John Har­baugh is stunned by the im­pact of Jack­son’s un­usual speed in games.

“We all are sports fans, and ‘speed kills’ is what they say in any sport, re­ally, so it’s fun to watch,” Har­baugh said. “But, I do think it’s al­ways more im­pres­sive to see it live than it is on tape, sure.”

Jack­son ran for 117 yards against the Ben­gals and 71 in last week’s 34-17 win over the Raiders .

“It’s dif­fi­cult to sim­u­late, be­cause he has such quick­ness and speed, like a wide re­ceiver or a cor­ner has, but he’s be­hind cen­ter,” said Fal­cons coach Dan Quinn.

The Fal­cons (4-7) have seen their play­off hopes dev­as­tated by their sec­ond three-game los­ing streak of the season.

Here are some more things to know about only the sixth meet­ing be­tween the Ravens and Fal­cons: RUN GAME MISSING A pri­or­ity for the Fal­cons this week is re­viv­ing a run­ning at­tack which fell flat in last week’s 31-17 loss at New Or­leans . Tevin Cole­man and Ito Smith com­bined to net 6 yards on 12 car­ries.

Matt Ryan was sacked six times by the Saints. Quinn says he could make changes on the of­fen­sive line against the Ravens.

“At the end of the day, our ex­e­cu­tion as play­ers needs to be bet­ter,” Quinn said. “We have to do a bet­ter job within our as­sign­ments.”

HAT TRICK Ravens de­fen­sive end Matthew Judon had sacks on three dif­fer­ent plays against Oak­land last week, be­com­ing the first player to pull off the feat since Brad Sci­oli of In­di­anapo­lis against Houston in 2002.

The se­quence oc­curred af­ter Bal­ti­more went up by 17 points in the fourth quar­ter.

“You knew they were throw­ing, so Matt could cut it loose just a lit­tle bit more,” Har­baugh said. “Of course, you’re not plan­ning for three sacks in a row.”

Judon has 4 ½ sacks in his last three games af­ter get­ting only 1 ½ in his first eight games. Now in his third season out of Grand Val­ley State, he’s two sacks short of match­ing his ca­reer high.

PO­TENT PASS GAME Har­baugh has re­spect for Ryan, who leads the NFL with 3,683 yards pass­ing. The Fal­cons boast an­other NFL leader in Julio Jones, who leads the league with

1,305 yards re­ceiv­ing. “The thing that re­ally jumps out at you is his ac­cu­racy,” Har­baugh said. “He’s an on-time, on-rhythm, ac­cu­rate thrower ... He knows the sys­tem inside and out, and he’s good, and their pass­ing at­tack is ex­cel­lent. It’s right there at the top of the league in terms of ev­ery sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory, and he drives that.”

ROOKIE RUN­NER Bal­ti­more’s big­ger sur­prise is the emer­gence of un­drafted rookie run­ning back Gus Ed­wards, who has topped 100 yards rush­ing in two straight games. Jack­son and Ed­wards have given the of­fense a new look — and op­pos­ing de­fenses new con­cerns.

“He def­i­nitely takes pres­sure off of me,” Ed­wards said. “All de­fenses have to re­spect the read op­tion . ... He can make plays with his feet, so the de­fense has to re­spect it.”

SHORT ON TURNOVERS

Bal­ti­more owns the topranked de­fense in the NFL and is al­low­ing only 18 points per game. Per­haps the most glar­ing flaw in the unit is the lack of take­aways. Ter­rell Suggs’ 43yard fum­ble re­turn in the fourth quar­ter against Oak­land was only the Ravens’ eighth forced turnover of the season and first in four games.

“Hope­fully, this can start a run of some big plays and turnovers,” safety Eric Wed­dle said. “It will make our de­fense even bet­ter.”

Bal­ti­more has a win­ning record de­spite own­ing a mi­nus-6 turnover dif­fer­en­tial. And, al­though the Ravens had a neg­a­tive dif­fer­en­tial in each of the last two weeks, they won any­way.

AP PHOTO

Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son runs onto the field to warm up be­fore last Sun­day’s game against the Raiders.

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